Philosophy of religion is, "the philosophical examination of the central themes and concepts involved in religious traditions." It is an ancient discipline, being found in the earliest known manuscripts concerning philosophy, and relates to many other branches of philosophy, including metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics.
The philosophy of religion differs from religious philosophy in that it seeks to discuss questions regarding the nature of religion as a whole, rather than examining the problems brought forth by a particular belief system. It is designed such that it can be carried out dispassionately by those who identify as believers or non-believers.
Some aspects of philosophy of religion have classically been regarded as a part of metaphysics. In Aristotle's Metaphysics, the necessarily prior cause of eternal motion was an unmoved mover, who, like the object of desire, or of thought, inspires motion without itself being moved. This, according to Aristotle, is God, the subject of study in theology. Today, however, philosophers have adopted the term "philosophy of religion" for the subject, and typically it is regarded as a separate field of specialization, although it is also still treated by some, particularly Catholic philosophers, as a part of metaphysics.
Although the term did not come into general use until the nineteenth century, perhaps the earliest strictly philosophical writings about religion can be found in the Hindu Upanishads. Around the same time, the works of Daoism and Confucianism also dealt, in part, with reasoning about religious concepts. The Buddhist writing in the Pali canon "contains acute philosophical thinking", and "we have in Buddhism a very shrewd grasp of the nature of religion as philosophy illuminates it."
Philosophy of religion covers alternative beliefs about God, the varieties of religious experience, the interplay between science and religion, the nature and scope of good and evil, and religious treatments of birth, history, and death. The field also includes the ethical implications of religious commitments, the relation between faith, reason, experience and tradition, concepts of the miraculous, the sacred revelation, mysticism, power, and salvation.
The philosophy of religion has been distinguished from theology by pointing out that, for theology, "its critical reflections are based on religious convictions". Also, "theology is responsible to an authority that initiates its thinking, speaking, and witnessing ... [while] philosophy bases its arguments on the ground of timeless evidence."
There are several main positions with regard to the existence of God that one might take:
These are not mutually exclusive positions. For example, agnostic theists choose to believe God exists while asserting that knowledge of God's existence is inherently unknowable. Similarly, agnostic atheists reject belief in the existence of all deities, while asserting that whether any such entities exist or not is inherently unknowable.
The attempt to provide proofs or arguments for the existence of God is one aspect of what is known as natural theology or the natural theistic project. This strand of natural theology attempts to justify belief in God by independent grounds. There is plenty of philosophical literature on faith (especially fideism) and other subjects generally considered to be outside the realm of natural theology. Perhaps most of philosophy of religion is predicated on natural theology's assumption that the existence of God can be justified or warranted on rational grounds. There has been considerable philosophical and theological debate about the kinds of proofs, justifications and arguments that are appropriate for this discourse.
The philosopher Alvin Plantinga has shifted his focus to justifying belief in God (that is, those who believe in God, for whatever reasons, are rational in doing so) through Reformed epistemology, in the context of a theory of warrant and proper cognitive function.
Other reactions to natural theology are those of Wittgensteinian philosophers of religion, most notably D. Z. Phillips. Phillips rejects "natural theology" and its evidentialist approach as confused, in favor of a grammatical approach which investigates the meaning of belief in God. For Phillips, belief in God is not a proposition with a particular truth value, but a form of life. Consequently, the question of whether God exists confuses the logical categories which govern theistic language with those that govern other forms of discourse (most notably, scientific discourse). According to Phillips, the question of whether or not God exists cannot be "objectively" answered by philosophy because the categories of truth and falsity, which are necessary for asking the question, have no application in the religious contexts wherein religious belief has its sense and meaning. In other words, the question cannot be answered because it cannot be asked without entering into confusion. As Phillips sees things, the job of the philosopher is not to investigate the "rationality" of belief in God but to elucidate its meaning.
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The problem of evil is the question of how to reconcile the existence of evil with that of a deity who is, in either absolute or relative terms, omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent. An argument from evil attempts to show that the co-existence of evil and such a deity is unlikely or impossible if placed in absolute terms. Attempts to show the contrary have traditionally been discussed under the heading of theodicy.
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There exists many understandings of the term "God". It typically differs not only from religion to religion, but also from person to person who share the same religious beliefs. It is therefore hard to define "God" or list a complete array of characteristics (nature) of God that is applicable to all religions.
For the sake of simplicity, the concept of "God" is often described by philosophers of religion to be an " 1. Omniscient, 2. Omnipotent, 3. Omnibenevolent 4. Being". Any "God" that is referred to in most contexts of philosophy of religion must have the above four characteristics, including being a "Being". Note that this list is not exhaustive. There exists other characteristics of certain "God"s that are not included, for example, "omnipresent".
Above all, a simple "if" relationship exists between "God" and those four characteristics. That is to say. if X is a "God", X must possess all four characteristics. Yet, according to the above statement, the existence of those four characteristics together on Y might not be sufficient to lead to the conclusion that Y is a "God". However, the non-existence of one or more of the four characteristics on an object Z is sufficient to lead to the argument that Z is not a "God" that we have defined above.
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In Analytic Philosophy of Religion, James Franklin Harris noted that
analytic philosophy has been a very heterogeneous 'movement'.... some forms of analytic philosophy have proven very sympathetic to the philosophy of religion and have actually provided a philosophical mechanism for responding to other more radical and hostile forms of analytic philosophy.:3
As with the study of ethics, early analytic philosophy tended to avoid the study of philosophy of religion, largely dismissing (as per the logical positivists view) the subject as part of metaphysics and therefore meaningless. The collapse of logical positivism renewed interest in philosophy of religion, prompting philosophers like William Alston, John Mackie, Alvin Plantinga, Robert Merrihew Adams, Richard Swinburne, and Antony Flew not only to introduce new problems, but to re-open classical topics such as the nature of miracles, theistic arguments, the problem of evil, (see existence of God) the rationality of belief in God, concepts of the nature of God, and many more.
Plantinga, Mackie and Flew debated the logical validity of the free will defense as a way to solve the problem of evil. Alston, grappling with the consequences of analytic philosophy of language, worked on the nature of religious language. Adams worked on the relationship of faith and morality. Analytic epistemology and metaphysics has formed the basis for a number of philosophically-sophisticated theistic arguments, like those of the reformed epistemologists like Plantinga.
Analytic philosophy of religion has also been preoccupied with Ludwig Wittgenstein, as well as his interpretation of Søren Kierkegaard's philosophy of religion. Using first-hand remarks (which would later be published in Philosophical Investigations, Culture and Value, and other works), philosophers such as Peter Winch and Norman Malcolm developed what has come to be known as contemplative philosophy, a Wittgensteinian school of thought rooted in the "Swansea tradition" and which includes Wittgensteinians such as Rush Rhees, Peter Winch and D. Z. Phillips, among others. The name "contemplative philosophy" was first coined by D. Z. Phillips in Philosophy's Cool Place, which rests on an interpretation of a passage from Wittgenstein's "Culture and Value." This interpretation was first labeled, "Wittgensteinian Fideism," by Kai Nielsen but those who consider themselves Wittgensteinians in the Swansea tradition have relentlessly and repeatedly rejected this construal as a caricature of Wittgenstein's considered position; this is especially true of D. Z. Phillips. Responding to this interpretation, Kai Nielsen and D.Z. Phillips became two of the most prominent philosophers on Wittgenstein's philosophy of religion.
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Either the lack of belief that there exists a god, or the belief that there exists none. Sometimes thought itself to be more dogmatic than mere agnosticism, although atheists retort that everyone is an atheist about most gods, so they merely advance one step further.
(a) the belief that there is no God; (b) Some philosophers have been called "atheistic" because they have not held to a belief in a personal God. Atheism in this sense means "not theistic". The former meaning of the term is a literal rendering. The latter meaning is a less rigorous use of the term though widely current in the history of thought- entry by Vergilius Ferm
As commonly understood, atheism is the position that affirms the nonexistence of God. So an atheist is someone who disbelieves in God, whereas a theist is someone who believes in God. Another meaning of "atheism" is simply nonbelief in the existence of God, rather than positive belief in the nonexistence of God. ...an atheist, in the broader sense of the term, is someone who disbelieves in every form of deity, not just the God of traditional Western theology.
Atheism, in general, the critique and denial of metaphysical beliefs in God or spiritual beings.... Instead of saying that an atheist is someone who believes that it is false or probably false that there is a God, a more adequate characterization of atheism consists in the more complex claim that to be an atheist is to be someone who rejects belief in God for the following reasons (which reason is stressed depends on how God is being conceived)...
On our definition, an 'atheist' is a person who rejects belief in God, regardless of whether or not his reason for the rejection is the claim that 'God exists' expresses a false proposition. People frequently adopt an attitude of rejection toward a position for reasons other than that it is a false proposition. It is common among contemporary philosophers, and indeed it was not uncommon in earlier centuries, to reject positions on the ground that they are meaningless. Sometimes, too, a theory is rejected on such grounds as that it is sterile or redundant or capricious, and there are many other considerations which in certain contexts are generally agreed to constitute good grounds for rejecting an assertion.(page 175 in 1967 edition)